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Faith United Methodist Church

July 30, 2017

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Rev. Kristabeth Atwood

Scripture:  Genesis 29:15-28, Psalm 105:1-11, 45b

Story Moment:

Stories have been part of our human culture since the beginning.  Some of the earliest carvings found on cave walls are thought to depict stories.  Before stories were written down tribes would gather around the fire where stories would be shared.  Stories help us understand where we come from and who we are.  Stories strengthen communities and connect the present to the past.  Stories of being and meaning have been passed down through countless generations.

If any of you are podcast fans like me, you might be familiar with StoryCorp.  StoryCorp’s mission is to record, preserve and share the stories of Americans from all backgrounds and beliefs.  The stories are recorded, shared on podcasts, and archived for future generations.  Listening to StoryCorp podcasts in the car I’ve laughed out loud and I’ve cried.  And I’ve come to realize that you can never presume to know another person’s story.

Some might say that the stories we’ve been reading from Genesis the past few weeks are the original StoryCorp.  The stories of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel and Leah were passed down from generation to generation orally – told beside the fire or over a shared meal – so the people of Israel would know where they came from and who they were in relation to God.

So today we are joining the ancient tradition of storytelling and having our own StoryCorp, of sorts.  First Bill and Lynn will share a story with us.  Then you will have a chance, if you wish, to share a story about your family…. a story that has informed your life, that tells us something about you that we may not know, or that helped you understand where you come from or who you are.

Bill and Lynn…….

Stories can celebrate our uniqueness or help us to appreciate our commonalities.  In a few minutes we will wrap up Jacob’s story as we come to the end of our journey through the family stories of Genesis.


Prayer for Illumination (Unison):

God of possibilities, mold us into people of possibility.  Keep us ever mindful of your covenant love and grace.  Wake us up to watch and wait for your appearance and your guidance.  Let your Spirit rise within us, that we may bring forth the kingdom and influence others to this hope and promise in all that we say and do.  Amen.

Sermon:  Marriage, Children and Reconciliation

Earlier I said that we will wrap-up Jacob’s story today, but that is not completely true.  There really is no end to the story because Jacob’s story is our story.  That’s the thing about family stories – they often don’t wrap up all neat and tidy.  There is often the next generation or another branch of the family tree that keeps the story going.  And even if the family tree dies off, the influence of every family lives on in the communities or in the church families to which the family belonged. 

Last week we followed Jacob into the wilderness where he fled from his brother to save his life.  You may remember that Jacob ran from Esau who was in a murderous rage after Jacob stole his birthright and his blessing.  Jacob escaped into the wilderness not knowing if he would ever be able to return home.  And it was in the wilderness that Jacob, in a dream, received a promise from God.  God assured Jacob that he would return home, that he would have a family and that the whole world would be blessed through him.  So Jacob picked himself up and went to his Uncle Laban’s place, in Haran, to start new life and find a wife.

You may remember that Haran was Abraham’s home until God called him to leave and fulfill the promise – the promise that Jacob carried on.  You may also remember that Haran was where Rebekah, Jacob’s mother, lived before marrying Isaac.  So, in a sense, Jacob was going to spend some time with extended family.  And among that extended family Jacob found safety and not one, but two, wives. 

You see Jacob, who was a swindler himself, was swindled by his Uncle Laban.  Upon arriving in Haran Jacob fell hard for the beautiful Rachel, Laban’s daughter.  Laban made a deal with Jacob that if he worked for him for seven years he could marry Rachel.  Yet, when the wedding day arrived Laban sent Leah, his older daughter, into the bridal tent.  It was only in the morning that Jacob realized it was Leah.  As was the custom for brides, Leah was veiled when she went into the tent….. and we might wonder if Jacob had a bit too much to drink at his bachelor party the night before. 

When Jacob complained to Laban, he was told that it was not traditional to marry off the younger daughter before the older.  If Jacob really wanted to marry Rachel, he could work seven more years for her.  Jacob must have been truly smitten, for he worked seven more years ~ a total of fourteen ~ to marry the beautiful Rachel. 

One might suspect that this situation would set up a competitive relationship between the sisters, and the story supports that.  Leah was the unloved wife who had many children.  Rachel was the loved wife who was initially barren.  Each had something the other wanted.  As Esther Menn describes it in Preaching this Week, “Through their unrelenting jealousy and competition, the two sisters…raise up a large family capable of fulfilling God’s promise to Jacob.”  Twelve sons in all….who will each have their own story.

About twenty-years after Jacob left his father’s house God called him to go back with his wives and children, confront his past, and begin his life in the Promised Land, the land of Abraham and Isaac.  Knowing that this would mean confrontation with his brother Esau, Jacob sent servants ahead with gifts to appease his brother.  Then, when he got closer to home, he divided his family into different camps so Esau couldn’t ambush and kill them all at once.

Yet where he expected hatred he found reconciliation.  Esau ran to meet him and embraced him.  The Scripture tells us Esau fell on his neck and kissed him and, together, they wept.  Esau, who also had wives and children, invited Jacob and his family to his camp.  Jacob, not yet ready to trust, told Esau to go ahead and he would catch up with him…. but instead traveled another way.  Ever the swindler!  Still, it was a step.  This imperfect reconciliation was the beginning of a new relationship, a relationship that continued when they came together again to bury their father, Isaac.  In the words of Kathryn Schifferdecker, “All these experiences…help…remake the shallow young man we first met in Genesis 25 into the father of the nation Israel.”

In a way, Jacob’s story is our story.  Not that we necessarily cheated our brother or found ourselves duped into marrying the sister of our fiancé.   But Jacob was a complicated character, as so are we…. complicated.  A John Holbert wrote in Opening the Old Testament, “The founders of Israel are, like us, always ready to get even, always concerned to get the best stuff, always interested in a way to save their own skin.”  And through the stories of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob we see how God’s promises are fulfilled in spite of ~ and even through ~ their less than admirable actions.  This can give us hope for ourselves and our families.  Maybe, with God’s help, we too can be part of God’s promise.  Maybe we, too, can be agents of blessing in the world.

These past few weeks it may’ve seemed like we’ve been following a soap opera rather than the Bible. Deception.  Abandonment.  Attempted murder. Estrangement.  Wife swapping.  A soap opera might even have trouble pulling off the stories that we’ve read.  I can imagine our ancient Israelite ancestors sitting around the fire listening to the stories of their founding families saying, “No way!  She did not!  Jacob did what?” Of course, the story doesn’t end here.  Genesis is just the first book of the Bible.  And, through these stories, we are reminded that the more things change the more things stay the same.  These stories connect the present to the past. 

So, for now, we are left with the assurance that God works through the ordinary and not so ordinary aspects of our lives to bring about the promise.  God’s family is not perfect.  Lucky for us!  Yet, as God’s family, we are made perfect in our imperfections.  In spite of us ~ and even through us ~ we become blessing’s to God’s world.  And the story continues.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.